Michigan Probate Attorney Andrew Mayoras has written in his blog, The Probate Lawyer Family Feud Blog, details of yet another celebrity death, this time Walter Cronkite. As Andrew notes, one of the big drawbacks to relying on a will (instead of a trust) is that wills must pass through probate court and are public documents. They can be read by anyone.
So anytime a celebrity dies without leaving all of his or her assets in a trust and/or joint tenancy, it gives the press something to write a story about.
The New York Post recently published an article about the final wishes of the late, great broadcaster Walter Cronkite who died on July 17, 2009 at age 92. You can read it here.
It is reported that Cronkite left most of assets (believed to be worth millions) to his children and aides from CBS. His August, 2005 will excluded his girlfriend, Joanna Simon (sister of singer Carly Simon). It appears he was very generous to Simon during life, but didn’t want to name her in his will out of respect for his wife of nearly 65 years, who passed in 2005.
As Mr. Mayoras notes, the best thing about probate court — with its publicity, added expense, and breeding ground for family disputes — is that it can be avoided. Walter Cronkite is not alone in subjecting his family to probate court when he easily could have bypassed it with a properly funded revocable living trust.
While his family hopefully won’t have to make multiple trips to court, like Michael Jackson’s family has been forced to do, he certainly had more than enough money to avoid this common estate planning
mistake. In fact, revocable living trusts make sense for most people — millionaires or not.